Scott Blasco’s work “Queen of Heaven” is a devotional-type meditation for piano and electronics. It is a large-scale work, so I will do my best to point out the areas that are of greatest interest to me. However, you should listen to the entire work, following along with the score.
This work is fascinating not only because of the meditative trance and spiritual aspects, but also because it juxtaposes non-tonal and tonal elements to give us a sense of harmony that is mystic and free, but not completely atonal. In fact, it is the meditative/trance/spiritual elements that reinforce a mild sense of tonal center, because the repetition used to create the meditation results in a focus on certain pitch centers.
For example, the first movement centers itself around repeated pitches D, F, Bb, and A, eventually combining to put us in a quasi-Bb “key”. This is undermined by a juxtaposition with a Bm7 chord.
This use of repetition establishing a tonal center, and then being undermined by other harmonic structures, is a key device in this piece.
But, enough with harmony. This piece has a very religious subject, which is greatly driven by the electronics. For example, take the first movement, measure 11, corresponding to roughly 0:50 in the recording:
There is a choir of angels that underlies the section leading up to measure 11, and in measure 13 one hears a rapid escalation and de-escalation of angelic, haunting voices created by the piano (the piano is miked for processing by a Max/MSP application).
The third movement, “The Unburnt Bush”, uses a fiery audio recording/texture to illustrate the Virgin Mary’s prefiguration in the burning bush of Exodus:
Even the piano here is fiery: it jumps and flickers in and out of order. The note at the bottom of the page describes how to perform this effect:
I want to spend some time on the use of nonstandard notation and the quality of engraving in this piece. One example that strikes me is measure 61:
Here we combine quarter note notation, gracenote-like freedom, feathered beaming, large, expansive slurs and hairpins, pedal markings, octave and dynamic markings, and piano hand indications, all in one line of the music. I can only imagine the time it took to put this from paper to notation software. It allows for musical freedom and juxtaposes fixed time with free time, tonality that is undermined, and a sense of melodic spaciousness, but is notated clearly, effectively, cleanly, and “idiot-proof”. A professor of mine once told me that one cannot make one’s notation fool-proof; it has to be idiot-proof. This whole work is beautifully engraved. Let’s take a look at some more beautiful engraving:
The work concludes with an 8/4, highly metered incantation. The striking element is that the trance is no longer created by repeated, single notes or notes in random, but rather a strict metrical element. This has the potential to become boring and too strict, but the use of the material that surrounds it, both in the piano and electronics, makes it meditative instead of banal or repetitive.
Overall, this piece reminds me very much of Messiaen’s “Visions de L’Amen”, Riley’s “Poppy Nogood”, and parts of McPhee’s “Tabuh-tabuhan”.
I hope that through this analysis you were able to learn from this piece’s techniques, forms, concept-execution unity, and musical elements. Until next time, keep composing!